John Wayne’s angry letter to Ronald Reagan unearthed
John Wayne, the Oscar-winning action hero whose movies can be seen on BBC iPlayer, once found himself embroiled in a bitter war of words with Ronald Reagan, the Republican politician who led the US from 1981 to 1989. Although Wayne tried to stay away from politics, his beliefs often detailed due to his high-profile career, culminating in his Academy Award for Best Actor through his work on True Grit in 1969.
The man often referred to as Duke was known for being a conservative American staunchly against communism, beliefs that earned him universal praise from international leaders.
But Wayne was outraged at Reagan after feeling he was spreading lies to his supporters about the 1977 Panama Canal Treaty, in which conservative politicians lashed out at the decision to “give up” on the deal.
Before becoming a Republican politician, Reagan and Wayne had crossed paths in the world of Hollywood, the former being president of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), the global actors union that today represents some 160,000 people in the industry.
While leading the union, Reagan supported a 1960 actors’ strike against top Hollywood studio executives over the residual pay system.
Reagan’s name was “dragged through the mud” as a result of his decision to back the strikes, and Wayne chose to support the SAG president by contacting his wife, Nancy Reagan, to express his praise for the leader.
But in the years that followed, Wayne trashed Reagan when it came to the Panama Canal Treaty.
The New York Times, reports show, noted how Wayne wrote an angry letter to Reagan over his decision not to endorse the treaty, which was signed by then-US President Jimmy Carter.
Wayne was expected to back the treaty, with many pointing out that his first wife hailed from Panama. Among his friends, it was also revealed, were the Panamanian leader Brig. Gen. Omar Torrijos Herrera.
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After learning of Reagan’s position, Wayne wrote: “I have now taken your letter and will show you point by point in the tract where you are misinforming people.
“If you continue with these erroneous comments, someone will publish your letter to show that you are not as thorough in your review of this treaty as you say, or that you are damned obtuse when it comes to reading the English language.”
Wayne’s politics sometimes impacted the work he took on, including when it came to war efforts. He starred, for example, in movies like Sands of Iwo Jima and The Green Berets, which portrayed how he should be an American hero in his eyes.
As his career continued into its twilight, he became more outspoken in his beliefs and was more outspoken as a result. He participated in a now infamous Playboy interview in 1971, revealing the true extent of his politics.
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During the interview, he spoke of how he “believed in white supremacy,” before speaking bitterly about African-Americans, saying, “we can’t just suddenly drop on our knees and turn everything over to black leadership.” .
He also admitted not feeling “guilty about the fact that five or ten generations ago these people were slaves,” adding: “Now, I’m not condoning slavery.
“It’s just a fact of life, like the kid who has infantile paralysis and has to wear braces so he can’t play football with the rest of us.”
Another controversial moment in Wayne’s career came in 1973 when Sacheen Littlefeather gave Marlon Brando’s Oscar-winning speech after he was named Best Actor for his role in The Godfather.
Littlefeather, who was 26 at the time, declined the award on Brando’s behalf, instead delivering a speech to condemn Hollywood’s misrepresentation of Native Americans.
At the time, Wayne reportedly attempted to fight Littlefeather offstage and had to be held back as he approached her.
The activist recalled the event last year while speaking to Variety, describing it as the “most violent moment” in Academy Awards history.
She said: “I found out that six security men had stopped him from assaulting me while I was on that stage. That was the most violent moment that ever took place at the Academy Awards.”
Reflecting on Wayne’s actions, he added: “The Academy never admonished him. It was never published in the press. But the most violent moments took place at that time at the Academy Awards for John Wayne.”
“All I know is…I feel no anger, hate, or animosity toward anyone, including the Academy and the John Waynes of the world.
“I’m not a rich person. I’m a poor person. I don’t have much, but I do what I can. I try not to judge others. So what other people want to do and what they feel in their hearts, they have to do.” .
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